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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

IN PHOTOS: Donovan Woods is the cool uncle we all know and love

Woods tells his life’s lores to the tune of soul-touching pop-folk.
Donovan Woods singing passionately into the microphone at Exit/In, as photographed on April 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Eigen Escario)

While there was no campfire inside Exit/In, the warmth of folk enthusiasts’ lively chatter and laughter filled  the edgy venue as the audience waited for pop-folk star Donovan Woods, special guest Henry Jamison, and opener Isabel Pless. Despite being in Nashville, the room gave off a small-town Southern atmosphere. One fan, Michael Vineyard, expressed his appreciation of Woods’ craft to me as I waited for the performers to take the stage.

“I’m a big fan of Donovan and his work,” Vineyard said. “He’s just a really thoughtful singer/songwriter artist.”

Woods seemed to have put a lot of thought into picking his opener Pless, who came off as a more youthful contemporary of the main act. Her awkward yet charming bluntness captured the hearts of the crowd. The audience laughed at the lines in songs such as “Little Life,” where she delivers clap backs at an online hater such as like “I hope your mother ends up hatin’ your guts / I hope you always give your all and it’s never enough.”

Pless referenced her rise to viral fame on TikTok, the platform where she frequently posts snippets of original songs. She performed her most popular songs, “Bechdel Test” and “More to Give,” during her set before giving the stage to Woods himself.

Woods stepped on stage nonchalantly, playing it cool as the house applauded and cheered for his presence. After some playful banter with the crowd, he took it away with some of his more understated songs like “Seeing Other People” and “Leave When You Go.” He sang passionately about yearning for someone and reconciling residual emotions from a past relationship.

Woods’ acoustic melodies transported me to the serene countryside. However, Woods’ genuine personality peeked through the anecdotes he told the audience between songs. He made the crowd laugh with random jokes and stories, whether by describing his song “Clean Slate” as a “song about people’s second wedding” or making fun of a straight couple at a Coldplay concert where the guy looks at his woman during their performance of “Yellow” and says, “this is our song, babe.”

Woods’ audience laughed with him as he cracked jokes and listened when he poured his heart out. When it came time for him to sing “Man Made Lake,” Woods revealed insight into his creative process through a humorous monologue.

“When something happens — let’s say somebody drops a fork — your uncle will go, ‘There’s your next song idea right there, Donald. Who brought the fork? There’s your next hit right there,’” Woods said. “I came up with the idea for this song thinking, ‘what if there’s a lake, but it’s also, like, your dad?’ I wanted to call it ‘Lake Dad,’ but they didn’t want to call it that.”

Woods continued his set with “Put On, Cologne,” which he named for an ex-girlfriend from college who lived in Cologne, Germany at the time. On the topic of failed relationships, Woods made fun of his conceptually deep and serious songs by adding a comical edge, confessing that several of his ex-girlfriends turned out to be lesbians — including one mentioned in the song.

Woods then shared some background about his unreleased song “I’m Around.”

“It’s about when you break up with somebody…sometimes you hate them, sometimes you love them still, and other times, they’re just around still,” Woods said. “I feel like I’m the ‘Around Guy.’”

The witty and talented performers combined with an audience that matched their energy surely made it a night to remember.

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About the Contributor
Eigen Escario
Eigen Escario, Former Staff Photographer
Eigen Escario ('26) is from Birmingham, Alabama. He is majoring in human and organizational development with a double major in computer science and minoring in business in Peabody College. In his spare time, Eigen enjoys taking ballroom lessons with his friends and handling the livestream for Vandy Ice Hockey.
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